Calgary Transit aims to hire 800 drivers before year's end
Staffing boost will return service to pre-pandemic levels, officials say
The city is looking to hire 800 bus drivers this year in an effort to curb attrition and restore transit service to pre-pandemic levels.
In a statement, Calgary Transit said it's looking to recruit 400 bus drivers over the next four weeks and another 400 drivers before the end of the year.
However, some say the recruitment process could be challenging, given ongoing security concerns, the amount of training involved, and general staffing issues.
Sharon Fleming, director of Calgary Transit, told reporters Thursday that adding hundreds of drivers to the ranks will help take the load off current staff and boost service.
Aside from drivers, the service is also looking to hire eight truck and transport technicians to keep the buses running.
Meanwhile, the city has also hired and trained more peace officers to monitor LRT platforms. This increase in security comes after two violent incidents late last year prompted the city to make operational changes.
"It's really critical to have that presence on our system," Fleming said, adding that Calgary Transit also plans to increase its ambassador ranks to 40 in the coming months.
Mike Mahar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 583, said he welcomes the new hires and additional peace officers, but he said it'll be a challenge to recruit — and keep — hundreds of new drivers.
"The attrition rate is brutal right now," he said, adding that the training process is long and a number of new hires quit once they realize the nature of the job.
Mahar says over the course of the pandemic, 450 operators were laid off, and while some of those drivers returned to work, and another 300 operators left through attrition. He says the city is playing catch-up.
"I know that they've spent money to add positions, and all of that is great. It's just not working yet," he said.
Of the day-to-day issues facing drivers, the biggest factors are scheduling and safety, Mahar said, adding that operators encounter crime, homelessness and addiction on the system, in plain sight.
Mahar says the city needs to invest enough money to maintain service levels and keep people safe, because a well-functioning transit system, he says, serves everyone.
The bus driver recruiting process went live this week. The city says wages are competitive and the new recruits will have access to the city's pension plan, among other benefits.
Calgary Transit currently has about 3,000 employees, although not all of them are drivers. If the city is able to hire 800 workers through the course of the year, it would increase their workforce by roughly 20 per cent.
"This recruitment phase should get us back to pre-pandemic service hours by the end of the year," Fleming said.
With files from Colleen Underwood, Mike Symington